While you may feel nice and comfortable taking your copter or drone out to your local park or school for some afternoon flying, you should do yourself a favor and check your local laws and make sure you aren’t risking some serious fines by flying where you are not supposed to. The reality is that most cities have very strict regulations on where you can fly and where you can’t. Many cities actually forbid the flying of model aircraft of sUAV’s (Sport unmanned aerial vehicles).
Probably one of the easiest things to do and yet one of the least done tasks is to balance the props on your heli or quad. If your rotors are not balanced, one blade will be heavier than the other which will cause an excessive amount of vibration. This vibration will cause extra wear on motors and bearings, make sensors less accurate, and make getting good video almost impossible.
The AR Drone is very simple to fly but does not fly like anything else on the market. If you are going to move up to bigger or more advanced quadcopters you are going to need a different set of flying skills. In this article we are going to start learning how to fly them and help you get your copter off the ground.
The first thing you need to know is that flying a quad is exactly like flying a R/C helicopter. The controls are exactly the same so if you have helicopter experience, you can easily fly a quad while flying a quad is excellent practice for flying a helicopter.
The Rotor Concept HPQ-1 is a big step up from the AR Drone in that it has a lifting capacity of a full pound. With a GoPro camera weighing only 3.3oz and even larger camcorders weighing in around between 9-14oz, the HPQ-1 can be used to lift a wide variety of small size gear.
Their larger HPQ-2 can loft up to three pounds which is enough for small DSLR’s and Compact sized cameras. Rotor Concept was selling the HPQ-1 for only $299 instead of their regular $499 price and they were flying off the shelves (pun intended). For a few extra bucks you got nice aluminum case with custom designed foam for the copter.
If you are used to flying helcopters, this is dead simple to fly. If your only flight experience is with the AR Drone than you better have an experienced quadcopter or helicopter pilot take it up first and dial in the trim settings. Adding the GoPro made it a little front heavy which I easily trimmed out. I had to be VERY careful as I have a very small backyard so the video isn’t that interesting or impressive but she does fly easily (again, if you are used to regular helicopter controls).
Flying for the first time, you probably will need to dial in the trim settings for it to take off straight and hover level. If you do not know what you are doing, I can’t stress enough that you should get some help with this Once it is dialed in, its pretty simple to fly. The left joystick controls the altitude and rotation while the right joystick controls the forward/back and left/right pitching and movement.
You should start with an area with enough open space to allow for some moving around without smacking into trees or walls. Part of the CES special included a camera mount so my next test was to mount a GoPro camera on it. Below is the video from the GoPro, more info to come as I get more used to flying it and can take it somewhere that I can open it up.
I got a chance to sit down with the folks from Parrot at CES and ask them about the AR Drone 2.0. Unfortunately, for existing AR Drone users, there isn’t a whole lot of good news to report. Virtually everything on the AR Drone 2.0 is brand new and is NOT, I repeat NOT compatible for the original AR Drone. The only thing that seems to remain the same is the main drive gear and the propellers, although they did say there is a change to the propellers as well.
The cross member is all new and will not fit into the original AR Drone nor will any of the electronics boards. Even the motors are new.
So what should you do with your original AR Drone? Well…keep flying it. The new AR FreeFlight 2.0 software WILL be compatible with the AR Drone 1.0. Expect the new software to arrive when the AR DRone 2.0 ships which is “sometime in Q2” which translated to “sometime between April and June”. Given that it is only January right now, don’t expect to see the AR Drone 2.0 flying near you for another 4 – 5 months.
Until then, here is some video I shot during CES and no, you cannot do flips and rolls with the AR Freeflight 2.0 software. ust like the current software if the AR Drone has too much of a tilt, the Drone’s motors will shut off. These demos are done with custom firmware designed for the shows.
With the official announcement of the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 there is more information starting to flow out as well as some videos that are available. Here is some of the info and videos we have managed to find so far.
- Camera: 720p
- Barometer to aid in higher altitude flight
- Compass mode for intuitive flight
- Better position holding to resist wind
- New application for control
- Record video and take pictures
- New flight modes designed for video production
Flying an AR Drone indoors is more challenging than flying outdoors. In this article I am going to give you some pointers to help make your indoor flights more enjoyable. Be sure to read the summary at the end – you may not want to even attempt indoor flight with this machine!
1. Soft materials will absorb the ultrasonic pulses from the altitude sensor
The two discs on the bottom of the drone are the ultrasonic sensors. Using these sensors the AR Drone attempts to keep its altitude steady. Different materials like carpeting, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, etc will all reflect or absorb these ultrasonic noises differently. You may be flying along just fine and then go over a table and all of a sudden the altitude changes radically. Generally you should try to fly about halfway between the ceiling and the floor just in case you get a quick altitude change up or down.
2. The AR Drone needs to see contrast underneath
The bottom camera is looking directly down in order to try to maintain its XY position. In order for it to do this well, there needs to be some contrast on the floor (hence the high contract design of the box).. You can lay down strips of carpet tape or masking tape to help the drone to position itself if you are having a lot of drifting issues.
3. The AR Drone will try to suck itself to the ceiling
The props on the AR Drone are sucking in air and pushing it down at up to 19.5mph. This is a lot of suction power on the top of the drone. You always want to stay at least three feet from the ceiling or you risk the drone trying to suckerfish itself to the ceiling. If this should happen to you, don’t worry it will come off immediately as the drone will do an emergency shutdown and plummet to the ground, hopefully landing on something soft and not an expensive vase.
4. Fly with the indoor hull indoors
While those spinning rotor blades are very cool to see out in the open, it is just good safety practice to use the indoor hull when indoors. This will not only protect your drone, but animals, children, and especially wives, do not like to be hit by spinning rotor blades. Flying in close quarters also means the inevitable bump against something and you don’t want to have to replace a set of rotor blades prematurely.
5. Turn down your controls
Its usually a pretty good idea to dial down your controls so that you limit your speed and altitude climbing to a minimum. The AR Drone generally responds pretty good and the more twitchy the controls are set, the more likely you are to hit something. This is why I use AR Drone Flight for Android. AR Drone Flight allows me to create multiple profiles so I can quickly switch between Indoor and Outdoor settings.
In a general sense, the AR Drone or any mid-size quadcopter is too large for regular “room flying”. You simply don’t have enough room to let the machine perform! If you do a lot of indoor flying, consider a micro-sized drone like the Hubsan X4 or the obstacle avoiding Walker QR.
Hang out in any AR Drone forum long enough and you will hear people asking why their drone doesn’t doesn’t fly as smooth as the YouTube videos they have seen. Videos show fast forward flight with smooth transitions to full stop or other smooth maneuvers. However, when you fly your fast forward flights end almost in a backflip and sometimes a scary loss of power. What is wrong with your AR Drone that it doesn’t behave the same way? The short answer….it’s probably you.
What I see quite often with new users is while the drone is in forward/reverse or left/right flight, a new owner will take their finger off the tilt control. This action will cause the auto-pilot to kick in and try to stop the drone as quickly as possible. For example, if you are in fast forward flight and just take your finger off the controls the nose will pitch up very sharply as the drone tries to come to an immediate stop. Usually, it will just recover and all will be good. However, on some occasions, things can go terribly wrong. With the bottom not pointing at the ground anymore, the altimeter can get confused and the drone will think it is too high, shutting down the motors. If the drone is too low, it might stall and hit the ground. If you have the altitude limiter off, it can think that it is transitioning into blind-flight mode and take off vertically, causing a fly-away.
Is there a solution to this? There sure is. Instead of pulling your finger off the tilt control, keep your finger in place and tilt your device in the opposite direction. Surprisingly enough you can stop an AR Drone extremely quickly while keeping it completely under control.
The main message here is “don’t panic” and always think ahead about what you are doing. As soon as you start moving forward, think about when you are going to want to stop instead of thinking about where it is right now. This kind of control is actually pretty hard to learn when flying around your house or a small backyard. Once you get the drone out to a decent sized area, at least 75′ x 75′, you will have enough room to really to learn the controls.
The sad truth is that some people have experienced their AR Drone seemingly having a mind of its own, turning all SkyNet on its owners, and heading off into the wild blue yonder to, most likely, hook up with other rouge AR Drones to create a Borg-like conscience so that they can return and make us their slaves. All kidding aside, losing a $300 drone is not a happy moment for anyone. Let’s take a look at why these occur and how can we prevent them,
The most common situation is with the altitude limiter turned off, your drone gets somewhere around 15-30 feet off the ground and decides to race for the clouds.This happens when the drone’s ultrasonic altitude sensor can no longer sense the ground and is transitioning from its guided mode to blind-flight mode. The exact height that this occurs will vary based on the ground the drone is over. Grass and soft surfaces will usually cause it to occur lower while harder surfaces like asphalt will generally have it occur higher.
If you see your drone start accelerating towards outer space, the important thing is to not panic. Stop all other controls and except for DOWN. Press and hold down and after a few seconds it SHOULD calm down and begin to descend. Unless you are over some exceptionally soft surface, I would not suggest hitting the emergency button as you usually do not end up with an optimal landing from 40-50′ above the ground and shutting the engines off. The AR Drone will drop like a rock as it has zero glide path, hitting the emergency button is all but a last ditch effort.
How to minimize risk of a fly-away
John over at Drone-Apps has written up a piece on this recently with the following suggestions:
- Don’t fly in Wi-Fi saturated areas. Try to be the only network around if possible.
- Don’t fly in the dark. (the bottom camera can’t track anything)
- Don’t fly over large solid colored surfaces, like a clean well-groomed grass yard or a giant piece of unmarked asphalt.
- Give your drone a break between flights, let it cool off.
- Set your altitude limit at around three meters or below. (above this altitude, the drone doesn’t know how high it is)
- Switch your ultrasound sensor to a different one when flying around other drones.
- Don’t test the range. If flying from the iPhone or iPad, stay within about 20 meters.
Note – there has been some improvement in the new 2.0 AR Drone model and fly aways may be easier to avoid. If you are just buying your first AR Drone, don’t get tricked into buying a 1.0 model at a discount of refurbished! This model is far inferior to the newer one.
The new AR Drone models have an accessory GPS which would seem to solve a lot of these problems when coupled with the proper additional software. This GPS allows your drone to follow a pre-programmed flight path which could, of course, include a return to base!
Below is a photo snapped from an AR Drone 1.0 which it was in flyaway mode – way out of range of the iphone! Luckily, it was retrieved, but yours may not be – so follow the guidelines above!
Note – if you want to fly your AR Drone this far away and NOT have it be out of control, consider one of the R/C Mods (MiruMod) listed on our Modifications Page.